Sunday, February 24th, 2013
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 13:31-35
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”-Luke 13:34
If Lent is a time to consider how we might draw closer to God, then we would do well to consider the ways in which we pull away from him, or alas, even reject him. Indeed, the very language I use to refer to God may offer us a hint as to one of those ways. You will have noticed that I referred to God as “him.” Do I take this to be a cardinal sin? No, I do not. I am not amongst those who would have us dump all masculine imagery about God, wholesale. I think we ought to retain many of those masculine images of God, most especially, the healthy ones. What needs deep consideration are the unhealthy masculine metaphors and faces we have applied to God. And further, for those of us who are men to have healthy understanding of our own masculinity, we must learn to sift and discern the healthy masculine images that flow from God to our humanity. But if this is true, it is also true that we must attend to an equally pressing, and indeed possibly more urgent problem, and that is the suppression of the feminine face of God. It is into this spring of hope that we plunge today, for in thirteenth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel we confront one of those rare moments in Scripture when the feminine divine seeks to enfold us and we, characteristically, reject it.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!”
This is, at first glance, a surprising Jesus. This is Jesus as mother. This is Jesus weeping over Jerusalem; weeping over her children. This is Jesus as mother who will be shunned for offering her undying love. This is Jesus as the mother who will be punished and destroyed for loving her children and seeking their well-being. This is Jesus the mother who calls to that other mother, Jerusalem, and admonishes her for abandoning her identity as “mother of us all” by perversely turning against, and destroying her own children.
None of this should surprise us though, for is Jesus not the one who challenges violent and patriarchal visions of power by the pouring forth of love in selfless abandon? This is not singularly a feminine virtue, rather it is our human calling! Gracious self-offering; selfless abandon! Jesus the perfect human being offering perfect love for the health, well-being, and very salvation of her children!
It has been said that to ascribe to God human attributes is wrong, for God is above human attributes, and God is above gender. But I question this notion. Of course, we put a human face on God because the ineffability of God is impossible for us to grasp. We give God arms, we give God legs. He counts the stars with his fingers. He breathes life into us. We hear his footsteps in the garden. We say these things about God, and yet, has not God taken human legs and hands in Jesus? The point is this: we project our humanity onto God because our humanity flows from God. Created in the image and likeness of God, male and female (!), our humanity flows from his divinity. And so when God chooses to come to us, to reach out to us in deep love, God shows us a human face. That face is the Christ. The error we have made is to look only at Jesus the man to the exclusion of Jesus the human. What Jesus accomplishes is that he makes us partners in the healing work of the gospel and in the persistent proclaiming of hope, regardless of gender, and indeed, in the fullness of our genders – equal, different, and partners. Who is it that catches that vision first? Yes, some fishermen begin to follow him, but it seems at times like dim senses preclude them from understanding, and their quest for personal glory clouds their vision. In St. Luke’s gospel, who is it that immediately catches the vision? Consider Mary, the mother of Jesus, who in her youthful fright says “yes” to God’s plan of hope and healing. Consider Simon’s mother-in-law, whose name is tragically lost to us, who upon being healed rises up to offer herself in Christian service. Consider the nameless sinful woman who kisses the feet of Jesus in deep love and prophetic understanding, anointing him ointment and with her tears. And Mary Magdalene and Joanna who opened both their purses and their hearts to make his ministry of love possible! And who stands at the foot of the cross when all others have fled? Who journeys to the tomb? These are the apostles of love, who by God’s grace, and in spite of the best efforts of violent voices, still leave their traces in our sacred texts. These are the voices -- these are the prophets -- that we seek to stone and kill for fear that they will challenge us beyond what we can bear. But what do they want? What do they seek? Nothing less than the very longing of Jesus, the very longing of God, “how I have longed to gather you under my wings, as a mother hen gathers her brood, but you were not willing.”
Perhaps the supreme and most grotesque irony is the robbing of Jerusalem of her feminine nature. The Old Testament prophets understood Jerusalem as the holy place in which all races, tribes, and nations would be gathered to know the goodness and salvation of God. To them she was “the mother of us all.” What might Jerusalem look like today if we really believed that? Would the children of Abraham and Sarah so wilfully seek to destroy each other within her very walls?
But Jesus comes to redeem all of that. “How I have longed to gather you as a mother hen gathers her brood.” Jesus reminds Jerusalem that she is a mother, not a warrior or vengeful judge that stones her own children! “How you would not let me gather you under my wings!” Jesus cries in anguish. And so he presses forward to that Holy City to restore, rebuild, and verily, re-create! His entry will be one in humility, not military might; and his recreating act will be offered in sacrificial love that consummates the new birth.
We are challenged to the core of our being by these words of Jesus, by his lament for Jerusalem. This is a Jesus that sets before us God as mother. This is a Jesus who offers us the pain of a mother in despair. However, we encounter also the resilience and persistence of the feminine divine that presses forward with strength and compassion in equal measure that her children may not be lost to her. If Luke can dare to imagine God in this way, can we dare to imagine God our mother who seeks to gather us under her wings? Can we dare to allow that image, and oh so many more to be liberated from the prisons in which we have kept them suppressed, deep in some dark chamber within us? Can we dare to draw close to God our mother? Can we dare to draw close to the feminine face of God? Or shall we be like Jerusalem, turning her back on who she is, stoning her own children? Shall we not only seek to suppress the fullness of humanity but the fullness of divinity? There are wings waiting – longing ! – to enfold us.